Coming Down from Drugs
Users take drugs for their immediate effects, like the rush of euphoria, excitement, and increased awareness of senses. But at the same time, they’re setting themselves up for an inevitable comedown, which is often long, arduous, and painful. Avoidance of distressing comedown symptoms is what keeps people using, since there comes a point when addicts need drugs just to not feel pain. Unfortunately, this unpleasant comedown and detoxification period is an inescapable part of the path to sobriety.
What’s a Comedown?
Addictive drugs change the way the brain regulates emotions and mood. Drugs cause a surge in neurotransmitters–like dopamine and serotonin–which stimulate a powerful rush of pleasure, called a “high.” Eventually, this artificial feeling of euphoria wears off, leaving the user feeling anxious and irritable.
A comedown from drugs can be equated with a hangover the day after drinking too much alcohol; it’s the period after taking drugs when the body tries to get back to normal. After someone becomes dependent on drugs, they’ll start to experience a comedown once they’re removed from the substance. Addicts’ bodies are so used to the constant presence of substances that it takes a while for their systems to cope without drugs. Opiates, for example, release two to ten times the amount of dopamine as natural rewards (like sex or a delicious meal) do. The body compensates for this huge surge of dopamine by halting the natural production of that same feel-good chemical. So taking away the substance results in a dip in mood which lasts until the body realizes that it should start producing those chemicals on its own again.
The duration and severity of a comedown is determined by a number of factors, including substance type, biology, dosage, tolerance, mental health, and the setting in which the drug was taken. Not all addicts will experience comedowns the same way. Some people may experience a gradual lessening of the pleasant effects, while others may face a sudden and intense emotional crash.
Though not all comedowns are created equal, the one thing they have in common is that they are all unpleasant. Addicts tend to take more and more drugs to relieve the discomfort and distress that accompanies the comedown, only accelerating the spiral of addiction.
Opiates and opioids, a category which includes both the illicit drug heroin and prescription drugs like OxyContin and Vicodin, trigger a distinct two-part withdrawal period. The first symptoms are said to mimic the flu, and set in within the first 24 hours.
Early opioid withdrawal symptoms include:
- Muscle aches
- Runny nose
During the next stage the user will experience the often more severe second set of symptoms, which include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Chills and goosebumps
- Abdominal cramps
- Dilated pupils
More severe withdrawal symptoms may require hospitalization and additional medications.
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Stimulant withdrawal is unique, since most experience few, if any, physical symptoms. This class of drug produces a huge spike in pleasurable chemicals, though, so during withdrawal it’s common for users to feel incredibly sad and depressed.
Other reactions include:
- Slowed speech
- Insomnia or hypersomnia
- Body aches
People who have abused stimulant drugs could experience withdrawal symptoms for as long as two weeks after they stop taking the substance. Symptoms vary in intensity, but hospitalization is recommended for severe cases.
Benzodiazepines act as depressants; they slow down body functions and dull the chemical receptors in the brain. Once someone stops using benzos, their pleasurable feelings of calm will completely evaporate.
Users may exhibit symptoms like:
- Irritability and emotional outbursts
- Sleep disturbance
- Inability to concentrate
- Memory problems
- Body aches, pains, and muscle stiffness
- Anxiety and panic attacks
Hospitalization is strongly recommended for people withdrawing from benzos, since severe cases can cause seizures and thoughts of suicide.
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Don’t Go It Alone
There’s no way around it; coming down from drugs is unpleasant. But as uncomfortable as it is, coming down is the body’s way of healing itself and getting used to functioning without the constant presence of drugs. Detoxification is an important first step towards recovery, and it should be done in the company of professionals who can provide the medical and emotional support to make it as safe and comfortable as possible. The best way to endure detoxification is to get help–don’t go through it alone.
If you or a loved one need help with detox, call our intake team at today. We encourage you to contact us to learn more about our programs and to find out how we can help you or your loved one begin the journey towards recovery.